I’ll See You in My Dreams chronicles the ups and downs of lyricist Gus Kahn’s life
It’s Throwback Thursday at CliqueClack! In ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams,’ the biopic about the life of famed lyricist Gus Kahn, Doris Day and Danny Thomas prove nothing can withstand the test of time better than their union.
I’ve got a question for you. Does the name Gus Kahn mean anything to you at all? Perhaps you’re more familiar with some of these nostalgic song titles from the early 20th century: “It Had to Be You,” “Pretty Baby,” “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” “Carolina in the Morning” or “Makin’ Whoopee.” Gus Kahn was the brilliant lyricist behind all of those perennial favorites taken out of the dog-eared pages of the song books of yesteryear.
Released by Warner Bros. in 1951, I’ll See You in My Dreams is a wonderful biopic depicting the many ups and downs in Gus Kahn’s life. Starring Danny Thomas and Doris Day as Grace LeBoy Kahn, the woman who would become his wife and the leading lady in his life, this film was recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive Collection, who graciously provided a copy for my review. I’d seen this movie on AMC as a child, but it had been many years ago. Ever the hopeless romantic, a movie such as this is right up my alley, and perhaps you’ll also enjoy its whimsy.
What captivated my imagination best as a child and as a middle-aged adult more recently is the fact that fewer people take the time to properly court one another anymore. In an age where people have easier access to countless dating profiles on the Internet and a heavy reliance upon social media and texting (and I myself am guilty of this to the nth degree) to make connections with people of the opposite sex, it feels like we’ve lost something that was once deemed more valuable to our society. In Gus Kahn’s time, it was more common to write the girl you loved a love letter, and he simply took it to the next level. He wrote song after song expressing his feelings of adoration and at times desperation. I think the writer who wears her heart on a sleeve in me appreciated this. I enjoyed watching him court Doris Day and win her over with his sweet song lyrics. They just don’t make them like Gus Kahn anymore!
I like that the film shows you how the relationship between Kahn and his wife develops from a casual meeting when he was a struggling songwriter trying to peddle some songs he had written to her employer to their at-times exasperating partnership to their eventual marriage and all the ups and downs of being a songwriter in Hollywood during the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression and beyond. It was sad to watch him mock his own songs just to get a paying job when his popularity waned. However, that did lead to the most memorable song lyrics in the film, which made me laugh:
“It had to be me that had to get you. I stand 5 foot 10, a man among men, but you’re 7’2″. I meet lots of girls when I make the rounds, but none are like you 7 foot 2, 70 pounds, but you make me thrill and you always will.”
I wonder how much of the film was based on truth and how much was romanticized or fictionalized for dramatic purposes. It’s noted that it was based on “The Gus Kahn Story,” which was written by Louis F. Edelman and Grace Kahn (uncredited), so that leads me to believe that much of it must be true (at least in Grace’s memories). For me, it doesn’t get much better than an inspiring story about a woman standing beside the man she loves and helping him to shine in the spotlight and be all that he can be. In these rocky, uncertain times with the number of divorces being on the rise, these are some of the true unsung heroes: the people who make a marriage or partnership work spanning multiple decades.
Here’s a little more background material on Gus Kahn that wasn’t depicted in the film: Gustav Gerson Kahn was born November 6, 1886, in Germany before his family immigrated to the United States when he was young. He died on October 8, 1941, after many successful years as a noteworthy songwriter for many vaudeville and Broadway shows. His story is truly one of rags to riches and living the American dream. He started out as a humble mail order clerk and emerged as one of the most prolific songwriters to come from Tin Pan Alley. He was included in the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
All in all, Danny Thomas and Doris Day have good chemistry together and are both adorable in their roles. I’ve had a crush on Danny since the first time I saw Make Room for Daddy and seeing him sing songs like “Pretty Baby” and “It Had to Be You” to Doris melted my heart because it was like watching the tenderest, most intimate moments between lovers not to be shared. Other standouts in the cast include Mary Wickes as Anna, the fussy housekeeper for the Kahns, Jim Backus as fellow showman Sam Harris and comedian Hans Conried (uncredited, but I love him) as Grace’s tyrant of a boss in the beginning of the film.
Special features on the DVD include “The Screen Director,” a nostalgic look at what it means to be a behind-the-scenes screen director produced by Members of the Motion Picture Industry, and “Lovelorn Leghorn” a classic Warner Bros. Merry Melodies cartoon starring one of my all-time personal favorites: Foghorn Leghorn. The black-and-white documentary about screen directors was at times interesting and at times cheesy, but something I appreciated being a big movie buff. The two featurettes were nice throwbacks to a simpler time and are reminiscent of the bonus features I’m told they used to show at the theater before a show.
Whether you’re a huge fan of Gus Kahn, musical biopics in general or the actors in the film, I think I’ll See You in My Dreams is definitely worth a look. It’s a unique snapshot preserved in time, a throwback to a bygone era in which men and women found more meaningful ways to express their devotion to one another that I, for one, am jealous of. Maybe it’s because I am capable of expressing my emotions in prose that I often find myself disappointed when no one sends me thoughtful prose back. I guess that’s what watching classics such as this are all about – it satisfies a certain yearning I can’t quite define. How do I love thee, movie? Oh let me count the ways.
You can purchase the new DVD of I’ll See You in My Dreams directly from the Warner Archive Collection.